SNOW HILL – While questions remain, Worcester County leaders learned more this week about the 6,200-seat sports arena a Texas company has proposed for northern Worcester County.
Representatives from Hat Trick Consulting, the company that has presented plans for a minor league hockey arena, met with the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday to talk about the concept they have come up with for the shore. While in the area, they will be visiting potential arena locations in Berlin and West Ocean City.
“We’re in the early part of the process,” said Bill Badger, Worcester County’s director of economic development. “This is really just a courtesy by Hat Trick so the commissioners are aware of the multiple issues involved in making this a reality.”
Mike Barack, president of Hat Trick Consulting, said his company hoped to be involved in creating what they are calling the Worcester County Event Center, a professional sports and entertainment arena. He said Worcester County had the population and the land to support the large arena, which he saw putting on 125-130 events a year.
“It could be way more than that if we tie in with high schools and other community entities,” he said.
Specifically, Barack plans to bring a minor league hockey franchise to the facility.
“There’s no professional hockey in Maryland,” he said, adding that such a team — with 36 home games a year — would be the anchor tenant for the arena.
Barack even put forth a potential name for the AA hockey team — the Worcester Warblers.
“It’s just an idea,” he said.
He added that it would take a second sport, such as lacrosse or basketball, to actually make the arena profitable.
“Two sports franchises are necessary in being able to generate enough revenue to sustain a venue on an annual basis,” he said.
Barack said the arena he hoped to see built in Worcester County would be similar to the 175,000-square-foot hockey arena in Allen, Texas, which includes retail shops and a community rink. He says there, concerts — about 10 a year — have proven to be a successful source of additional income. He said that while there were other concert venues in Wicomico and even Worcester County, they wouldn’t necessarily be competing.
“It’s very feasible to double book or triple book with other venues,” he said.
Barack said a sports arena like the one he proposed could have a substantial economic impact on the county. Along with increased sales tax revenue, the county would see increased hotel occupancy and lots of indirect spending. The company estimates the arena would attract 400,000 attendees a year, create 100 full-time jobs and result in an economic impact of $19 million to Worcester County and the state.
Citing Hat Trick’s proposal for the arena to host 125 events a year, Commissioner Chip Bertino asked how many events Ocean City’s Performing Arts Center and Salisbury’s civic center hosted each year.
“I’m curious as to what our neighboring facilities are doing,” he said.
Barack replied that the facility he was proposing couldn’t really be compared to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center because it didn’t sell beer, have ice or offer the naming rights that professional sports arenas did.
“We’ve researched that venue and certain events can be double booked and certain events can’t be held there that can be held here,” he said. “For pro sports beer sales are a major factor in revenue.”
Bertino also asked who would be funding construction of the roughly $40 million arena.
Barack said such facilities could be publically owned or could be operated through public-private partnerships. He envisions some sort of partnership taking place in Worcester County.
Badger said the process had only just begun.
“It’s early to say who’s going to be doing what,” he said.
Barack said his company had invested between $20,000 and $30,000 in the project so far and was interested in acting as an intermediary in the process.
“We know how to bring sports teams in,” he said. “Our responsibility would be to bring ownership groups and teams and leagues to the community.
Badger said Barack and his associates would be looking at potential locations for the arena in the West Ocean City and Berlin areas.
Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw, who represents the Pocomoke area, suggested they also look at land throughout the rest of the county.
“The south end of the county really needs a shot in the arm,” he said.
According to Badger, now that the commissioners have heard Hat Trick’s proposal the next step in the process would be a study by the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA). The study would be funded in part (40 percent) by the MSA while the rest would be funded by Worcester County. Badger said the cost of the study — $75,000 — was higher than he originally predicted but that the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development had agreed to give the county $25,000 toward the study. Hat Trick Consulting has also offered $5,000 to help fund the study so the cost to the county would be $15,000. The commissioners have not committed to any sort of funding as of Tuesday.